Satank (ca. 1800–1871)

By: Brian C. Hosmer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 27, 2021

Satank (Set-Tank, Set-Angia, Sitting Bear), Kiowa warrior and medicine man, was born shortly after 1800, probably in what is now Kansas. Though little is known about his early life, by the 1830s Satank seems to have established himself as a leading warrior at a time when intertribal relations on the plains were in a state of turmoil. He took advantage of opportunities for advancement and eventually became a member of the elite warrior society known as the Koitsenko. This group, comprising about ten of the bravest warriors of the tribe, was in a sense a martial caste, its prestige dependent upon success in warfare.

True to his status, Satank was first and foremost a soldier. In the 1830s and 1840s he was occupied with intertribal warfare and gained special notoriety for highly successful expeditions against the Cheyennes, the Sacs, and the Foxes. Gradually, however, as more Whites moved onto the plains, Satank's activities became directed against them. His targets included White settlements, wagon trains, and, on occasion, army outposts. In 1864, for example, Satank was said to have been responsible for a raid on a settlement in Menard, Texas, as well as the murder of a guard at Fort Larned, Kansas. Such exploits gained him a reputation as a daring and effective warrior.

Yet, while these military successes gained him substantial prestige in Kiowa society, Satank seems never to have become a chief of the first order. Though some sources assert that he lost his claim to leadership because of an instance of cowardice, it is more likely that his path to preeminence was blocked by Dohäsan, the paramount leader of all the Kiowa bands from about 1833 to his death in 1866. After Dohäsan died, Satank became one of several prominent leaders, but he never succeeded in consolidating his power. By the late 1860s the Kiowas were an embattled people. Dohäsan's death left the group without a unifying force, and internal bickering resulted. In addition, increasing White settlement, intertribal warfare, disease, and a more substantial army presence combined to pressure the Kiowas into seeking some sort of accommodation with the White men. Consequently, in 1867 the Kiowas, along with most other tribes of the southern plains, agreed to attend the Medicine Lodge Treaty council, in what is now Barker County, Kansas. The Kiowas were represented by Satanta, self-proclaimed heir of Dohäsan, and Satank, now about seventy years old, who was described as "about five feet ten, sparsely made, muscular, cat-like in his movements," and distinguished by a wispy moustache. Together Satank, Satanta, and several other Kiowas signed the treaty that forced the tribe to move to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.

When the bulk of the tribe settled on its new lands the following year, Satank was among them. However, he seems never to have adjusted to confinement and was absent frequently. His resentment only grew when, in 1870, his son, also known as Satank, was killed in Texas. Reportedly, the old man was inconsolable and, after journeying to Texas to retrieve his son's bones, killed and scalped a White man. He joined Satanta, a young warrior named Big Tree, and other discontented Kiowas, Comanches, and Plains Apaches to conduct a series of raids throughout the next year on settlements in North and West Texas. On May 18 Satank and his compatriots attacked the Henry Warren wagon train, which was carting supplies to Fort Griffin, and killed and mutilated seven of the twelve teamsters. The five who survived made it to Fort Richardson, where they related their experiences, later sensationalized as the Warren Wagontrain Raid, to Gen. William T. Sherman.

In response Sherman sent Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie and the Fourth United States Cavalry to search for the culprits. Though Mackenzie failed to find the Indians, when he arrived at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, he found Satank, Satanta, and Big Tree already there and requesting rations. Surprisingly, when questioned about the raid, Satanta bragged that he was the leader and proceeded to implicate Satank and Big Tree. Satisfied that Satanta was telling the truth, Sherman arrested and imprisoned the Indians and determined that they would be transferred to Fort Richardson, where civil authorities would try them for murder.

Four days after meeting with Sherman, the three leaders, handcuffed and shackled, began their journey. Satank refused to climb into the transport wagon and was thrown in by two guards. The indignity of being transported in chains was too much for the old warrior, who was pledged to death before dishonor. Under the cover of a blanket he worked to free himself. While singing the death song of the Koitsenko, he tore enough flesh from his wrists to escape from the handcuffs. Quickly, he grasped a knife concealed in his breechclout, sprang on the closest guard, knocked him out of the wagon, and grabbed his carbine. As Satank prepared to fire on his captors, he was felled by rifle fire from several guards. Satanta and Big Tree watched helplessly as Satank, mortally wounded, was thrown from the wagon and left by the side of the road to die. So fearful were the Kiowas of reprisals for Satank's attack that no one claimed the body, which was scalped by Tonkawa scouts. Eventually Satank's remains were buried, without ceremony, at the post cemetery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. His only known survivor, a son named Frank Givins, was known to be living in Carnegie, Oklahoma, in 1929. He was said to be a medicine man.

Allen Lee Hamilton, "The Warren Wagontrain Raid: Frontier Indian Policy at the Crossroads," Arizona and the West 28 (Autumn 1986). Mildred P. Mayhall, The Kiowas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962; 2d ed. 1971). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Bad Medicine and Good: Tales of the Kiowas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). F. Stanley [Stanley F. L. Crocchiola], Satanta and the Kiowas (Borger, Texas: Jim Hess Printers, 1968). John Edward Weems, Death Song: The Last of the Indian Wars (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Chiefs and Other Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brian C. Hosmer, “Satank,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 27, 2021